Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Brothers

After diving the first day at Marsá Shoana, we motored overnight to a pair of pinnacle islands in the middle of the Red Sea: the Brothers. Big Brother has a lighthouse on it, built by the British in the late 1800's. The Egyptian Navy still maintains it, and lighthouse keepers rotate in for two month stints on this small bare island over 50 miles from any shore. Despite the lighthouse, accidents do happen, and there are two wrecks smashed against the side of Big Brother.

We started with a dive along the east side of Big Brother. While we were swimming around a corner a grey reef shark appeared at our level. He swam right under me, and of course I was too mesmerized to take a picture. I skipped the next dive to give my ear a rest, and took a power nap. Between the jet lag and the cool water I've been wiped out. I joined in for the third dive, on the north and west side of Big Brother. We dropped in on top of the wrecked Numidia, which sunk in the 1950s. This cargo ship made a vital navigational error even though it saw the lighthouse, and basically sailed straight into the pinnacle and snapped the bow off. Other ships came, and the cargo was offloaded before she slid down the slope to rest with her stern in deep water. The wreck is completely frosted over with hard and soft corals, and you can swim into the engine room. Unfortunately no one wanted to do this except me, so we skipped that and instead swam along the deck. After the Numidia, we made our way along the west wall of Big Brother, passing the wrecked Aida. The Aida was a supply ship for the lighthouse, and tipped over and sunk while offloading supplies.

There were a LOT of liveaboards out at The Brothers, and our Captain wanted a good position at Little Bother, so we picked up and moved over to the smaller island before the fourth dive. I was amazed at how many dive boats had made the trip over from coastal Egypt, there were about a dozen between the two islands. It had been windy, with choppy and bouncy surface conditions, so getting in and out of the zodiac was somewhat nerve wracking. Fortunately late in the afternoon the winds died down, and our dive on the south side of Little Brother was delightful. We drifted for the first half, along the wall where hundreds of thousands of anthias darted in and out of the colorful corals. Squadrons of coronet fish escorted us: they'd hang out under my stomach or behind my shoulder, and when they saw something they wanted to eat they'd dart out and slam it against the reef to trap it. So many coronet fish were hunting like this it was quite comical. We'd try to shoo them away but they didn't scare easily and kept coming back.

That night while moored off Little Brother, the crew kept seeing an Oceanic White Tip shark. He was quite curious and would swim from boat to boat. We hoped to see him when we dove the next day. When I woke up a 6am Tuesday morning, I went out on deck and saw that one of the other boats was already picking up divers. They had gone in at break of dawn, at about 5:15am. That is way the heck too early! We got in at around 6:45 and went to the plateau at the north side of Little Brother. A gray reef shark circled in the current until another team of divers descended upon him and scared him away. We drifted back through clouds of reef fish, at one point I was completely surrounded by anthias. The divers who scared the shark overtook us, and we wondered where they were going and what they expected to see by going so fast. You find all the good stuff when you move slowly. We saw a golden spotted flatworm and a couple of green moray eels. I watched one getting cleaned by a little black and blue wrasse.

During breakfast reports came in that the oceanic white tip was still around, so on our next dive we went looking for him and for some Napoleon wrasse. I spent most of the dive looking out into the blue for the shark, and was about to give up 50 minutes later when it appeared. It was near the surface, swam a loop in the middle distance, and then faded away into the blue again. I got a good look, though, it was like staring at the sharks in the Monterey Aquarium shark tank. We have two more dives scheduled for Little Brother. Thresher Sharks hang out here so we'll go look for one on the next dive. [We didn't see any, but that oceanic white tip cruised by again.] I'm going to call it a day after that: my ear is doing pretty well and I want to keep it that way. Tonight we will motor 100 miles south and slightly west to Daedalus Reef, which by all accounts should be spectacular.

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